The retirement of 13-year incumbent Joe McDermott from the King County Council prompted two local politicians to run for the open seat: Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon and Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. They both made it through the primaries and have differing visions for the district, which includes broad swathes of West Seattle, Burien, Vashon Island, White Center and the Chinatown-International District.
Mosqueda, whose six-year tenure on the Seattle City Council saw her bolster her progressive credentials with policies like the JumpStart tax on big corporations, says she wants to focus on public health at a regional scale. However, she’s been criticized by opponents for showing support for diverting police funding to other community-based safety initiatives.
Mosqueda sat down with Real Change at its Pioneer Square office to talk about her policy agenda for District 8 and beyond.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Real Change: What motivated you to run for King County Council?
Teresa Mosqueda: What motivated me to go to the county is the direct investments and the purview over health policy. The public health crises that we see playing out across our region, such as addiction and behavioral health needs; the public health crisis of not having access to housing; the public health crisis of increased extreme weather, whether it’s the smoke or heat or the cold — all of these issues can be addressed through a public health lens.
What makes you better than your opponent, Sofia Aragon?
For me, I like to think about what I’ve been able to accomplish. I can be a progressive, effective champion on issues like progressive revenue; bring people to the table and quickly find solutions; pull together broad coalitions that move revenue and investments in housing, investments to address the Green New Deal and labor and worker supports.
In your opinion, what are the biggest issues King County is facing right now?
Housing is the foundation for how we create healthier communities. It is no wonder that many people might be self-medicating due to economic stressors, housing instability [and] lack of access to comprehensive health care, which is only going to worsen if you don’t have access to affordable housing [and] stable housing. I think housing is the biggest stressor in our community right now that residents across King County are facing,
If elected, are you willing to take on the rich and powerful to accomplish those policy priorities? And do you want to tax the rich more?
I was the lead sponsor of JumpStart. The easy thing for people to be able to see from me is a desire for a more equitable economy. That requires us to have revenue to invest in roads and sidewalks, in housing, in child care, in job training. Revenue comes from taxation; taxation is not a punitive policy. I absolutely believe that we need to be taxing not only additional wealthy individuals, but [that] the largest-earning companies in our region can pay more into the infrastructure that makes the community healthier.
Over the last decade we’ve seen a lot more cities like Bellevue, Mercer Island and now Burien pass or consider anti-homeless ordinances and camping bans. If elected, how would you push back against this type of discriminatory policy making?
We know that it’s not an answer to the crisis that we see. It is a reactionary move to hide from the vocal minority [and] their displeasure with seeing individuals who are living unsheltered. The answer is not to move them out of sight; it is to provide services and housing.
It also reignites or furthers someone who might be dealing with that trauma with self-medication and pushes them further into using substances. Many people who have had bad experiences in congregate shelters, especially pre-pandemic, don’t want to go [in]to a system that has traumatized them, that has taken them away from their loved ones, away from their children, away from their pets, away from their belongings. We have to rebuild trust and help get people into non-congregate shelter options, emergency housing options and, more importantly, into longer-term, affordable and supportive housing options.
What type of mechanisms could you use as a King County Council member to push back against some of this policy making?
I applaud Executive Constantine and the King County Council, who [are] trying to offer supportive strategies right now to the city of Burien. They have offered a million dollars in resources that can pay for bathrooms and services and security, if needed. They’ve offered 35 tiny house villages through Pallet Shelter.
Your opponent has a big role in this as Burien’s mayor. Would you like to talk about how they’ve approached it versus how you’d approach the issue?
I would approach the issue with urgency. I would approach the issue with [a] collaborative response. I wouldn’t act to move people from place to place or quasi-privatize land just for the sake of having a justification to move people off a property.It only resulted in people moving a few blocks away and still being very adjacent to small businesses.
When elected officials engage in policies that criminalize homelessness, it only exacerbates the type of vitriol that those who are living outside experience. Last year, hate crimes or bias crimes against those who are living unsheltered increased by 229%. And if you have elected officials compounding the misinformation and the vitriol towards those who are living unsheltered, it gives justification or an excuse to those who are harassing, intimidating and harming.
If elected, what would be your relationship to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA)?
I helped to set up the King County Regional Homelessness Authority while at the city of Seattle. I think that it is imperative that they have the ability to serve our region and in order to do that, they need a reliable revenue stream.
That also requires us to be investing in the contracted organizations that they work with. As you know, the cost of living increase was not applied to human service providers for 10 years prior to my arrival at [the] city council. I was proud to have fought for, defended and won twice the ability to get a cost of living increase for human service providers at the city of Seattle.
Last year, the King County Auditor found that the Sheriff’s Office arrests people and uses force in a racially discriminatory manner. How would you address this disproportionality?
Unfortunately, I think that the Sheriff’s Office is not unique to law enforcement across the country, which is getting more attention in the wake of George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s murders.
I’m inspired by is the conversations I’ve had with folks in the Burien area who have worked with Chief Boe, who has worked directly with community organizations and community leaders to talk about what reimagining policing could be in that neighborhood. Instead of defaulting to an officer with a gun showing up for something, going to alternative strategies that have a social worker or a case manager show up and try to triage a situation that doesn’t require an officer to be there at the same time. Co-responder models are getting a lot of attention, but they don’t work if you’re requiring the social worker to sit in the vehicle while the officer goes in first.
What do you think of the distinction between a co-responder model versus having a solely civilianized team, and which one would you support more?
I think the national data supports having an alternative response. So [having] the social worker, the case manager, showing up. An alternative response could also be what we’re trying to scale up at the city of Seattle through Health One, where it’s a firefighter showing up with a case manager to respond to a person down, [a] mental health crisis. You know, someone who is acting erratic on the street, parents calling when they know that their child is having a crisis. We should not have officers responding to those various situations where we actually have trained personnel.
King County Metro workers just won a 17% pay increase this month, yet many workers still report worsening labor conditions over the past couple of years. How would you address the poor labor conditions and understaffing at King County Metro?
I am proud to have the endorsement of the Amalgamated Transit Union members who drive for King County Metro. It is important to invest not only in wages, but also in the ergonomic needs that the drivers have talked to me about and really invest in their health and wellbeing as drivers.
That includes also the safety and security that they want to see invested in. Many drivers have talked about alternative responses; they want to be able to call someone when somebody’s having a crisis on their buses. They want an alternative to 911 to call — they’d like to have a health team dedicated to showing up at bus stops, where there’s a case manager, a social worker, a health care provider [who] can show up and escort somebody off the bus and into the appropriate care that they need.
What is your long-term plan for King County Metro and our regional transportation system? And do you support a fare-free model? And how would you pay for investments needed to improve public transport?
We need to grow ridership, and you grow ridership by increasing frequency; you grow ridership by increasing trust that the buses are gonna come on time. We need to focus on regular, routine pickups so that people can go to the grocery store and daycare and their senior center or wherever.
We have additional resources coming in through the transportation benefit district model. I also recognize [that] we need other progressive revenue streams in order for us to expand out a regular, routine, connected bus network. I do support making this a fare-free system. And that is good for the health of our planet.
Right now there’s a lack of public restrooms in both Seattle and King County as a whole. Do you think King County agencies like Public Health or KCRHA have a role to play in fixing the issue? And if so, what would you do to address the issue?
Jurisdictions across our region all have a responsibility to increase access to public restrooms. We have seen not only COVID spread because of lack of access to hand washing facilities, but there’s a number of other communicable diseases that can be prevented with just hand washing alone. It is good for the housed and the unhoused population. It is good for residents and tourists to be able to have access to public restrooms, and we should be investing in that across the region.
Our region is also facing an escalating fentanyl and opioid crisis. If elected, how would you address the issue? And do you support certain harm reduction policies like public consumption sites or safe supply?
I have been a champion, along with Councilmember Bagshaw, for overdose prevention sites, safe consumption sites. It is a proven public health strategy. It should not be controversial. Just like needle exchanges are widely accepted as a proven public health intervention strategy now, they were controversial two, three decades ago when they were implemented.
I continue to ask my colleagues and the broader community to look at the data that shows us that arresting people for consumption does not help get people into recovery.
Public Health – Seattle & King County could face budget cuts next year and in future years. So if elected, how would you try to fill the gap? Would you prefer to cut services or explore other revenue options?
Explore other revenue options. I really appreciate that Executive [Dow] Constantine and members of the King County Council had been to the halls of Olympia over the last few years asking for additional authority to be able to increase revenue. The discretionary funding that they have goes into the very things that the broader community is saying they want services for. Helping people who are dealing with addiction, helping people who are experiencing homelessness, helping our elders and our kiddos, keeping libraries and community centers open. Is that what the community wants cut? No, they don’t.
The King County Correctional Facility has been deemed unsafe. We’ve seen a number of people die in the facility; one expert labeled the suicide rate as “astronomical.” If elected, how would you address the crisis in the jail?
The crisis of behavioral health, substance abuse — first, we need to stop jailing people for those issues. Living unsheltered, and you get swept up in the system and [go] to jail — that’s not a crime, to be without a home. So we need to stop sending people to the jails, even for temporary booking for a few days, because it is exacerbating the overpopulation and the healthcare crises that they’re having.
You ask people who work in the jails what they are seeing; they see the uninhabitable situation that’s occurring: mold, leaking water, poor air quality. That is not okay, either. So we need to shut down that jail. It is not a safe place for inmates; it’s not a safe place for staff.
If elected, what are three things you would do to immediately improve the lives of Real Change vendors?
Number one is direct investments into public health and cleaning a public health infrastructure that supports behavioral health, substance abuse needs, but also basic hygiene. Second priority is housing — supporting local jurisdictions with building additional housing by expediting requests, especially in unincorporated areas, for those that are trying to build affordable housing. The third thing is access to economic opportunity. In District 8 specifically, it is home to more union hiring halls than any other area in the county. I want folks who have been on the frontline during the pandemic to be at the frontline to have access to good union jobs.
Read more of the Sept. 13-19, 2023 issue.